After a stand-off between the US and China thwarted any comprehensive global agreement on climate change and greenhouse-gas emission reduction at the UNFCCC conference at Copenhagen four years ago, a new emission management deal reached between the two countries on Wednesday should be reason for cheer. However, there are quite a few challenges that could prove daunting for the two nations.
For one, the US’s commitments under the agreement are staggering and could end up being a drag on its nascent recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. The US has to cut CO2 and other greenhouse gases’ emissions by at least 26% of the 2005 levels. This would mean significantly reducing its dependence on coal. While the ongoing shale revolution in the country could offset some of the dependence on coal with a lesser burden on the environment, the Obama administration has to fend off stiff opposition from the Republicans, who oppose the US committing to any reduction goal. This would prove difficult given the Republican resurgence after the recently concluded Senate elections. The Economist points out that slowing growth in China would ensure that the emission goal it has committed to—the country has agreed to reaching peak emission by 2030—is met anyway, meaning the country may not have committed to anything significant. Be that as it may, China’s other goal seems a herculean task at the moment. The country promises to draw 20% of its energy from zero-emission sources by 2030, but that would mean, as per Sam Roggeveen, an energy expert cited in Time, that nearly 800-1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero-emission capacities need to be deployed by that year—totaling more than all the coal-fired plants in China today. Quite a tall order, given the country is expected to experience slowing growth.